The New York Comics & Picture-Story Symposium is a weekly forum for discussing the tradition and future of text/image work. Open to the public, it meets Monday nights 7-9pm EST in New York City. Presentations vary weekly and include everything from historical topics and technical demonstrations to creators presenting their work. Check out upcoming meetings here.
This week’s presentation was given by fine artist and cartoonist James Romberger and his son, the hip hop artist Crosby.
Romberger’s Comics & Art
In his presentation, James showed a smattering of scenes and comics he drew in pastel in the 80s, many of which centered on his neighborhood in Alphabet City, including homeless riots and other powerful street scenes from that time. Some of this work now sits in the Metropolitan Museum of Art and The Brooklyn Museum, while some of it was featured in the political comics anthology World War 3. The East Village did not remain such a hotbed of activity, however, so he shifted his subject matter.
James went on to create comics for major publishers such as DC/Vertigo, Marvel, and Image. He spoke in depth about his work on Seven Miles a Second, the late David Wojnarowicz’s harrowing autobiographical tale of prostitution and AIDS. Originally published in 1996 by DC/Vertigo, it has received a new oversized treatment from Fantagraphics, featuring watercolors by his wife, Marguerite Van Cook. The book recently graced the New York Times best sellers list. The couple also co-wrote this article about Jack Kirby and Argo, which was published in Comic Art Forum in 2003. James has recently created several large abstract ink works, drawn from directly above the paper with great sweeping arcs of the brush.
The final part of the presentation was a hip hop performance by Crosby, who has released several mixtapes and records of his eclectic tunes and performed at SXSW. While James projected a slideshow of images from his new comic book, Post York, Crosby rapped about the game of survival in a post-apocalyptic New York. A flexi disc of this song comes with the book. His music adds to the narrative and feeling of Post York (“Solid ground is fast a blur / I’m walking on water / but that’s absurd”). The fact that Crosby himself is the main character of the comic creates another layer of meaning in the multimedia collaboration. The two of them worked on the story together, bouncing ideas off each other for paths the plot could take. At one point, the narrative actually splits, first telling James’ original intended ending, and then a new one they devised together.
The initial joy of Post York lies in the way James introduces us to the environment, as Crosby navigates the waters and abandoned buildings of a flooded, depopulated Manhattan. The broken windows of deserted skyscrapers, the gnarled branches of withered Central Park trees, the ripples in the water that has turned the city into a Venezian nightmare: the seemingly effortless, skritch-scratchy hand of Romberger makes them all appear alive and hauntingly beautiful. His kinetic brush strokes and heavy use of black recall both Kirby and classic adventure comics, but the staggered panels and measured storytelling are more modern and add to the quiet, isolated feeling of the tale.
When asked about the difference between comics and illustration, James replied that “a cartoonist must have the skills of an entire film crew”, except maybe the screenwriter. On Aaron and Ahmed, he said that the publishers “drained the courage” from the original script, which was much more risqué in its depiction of the gay romance that develops therein. At one point, he was asked to draw underwear onto a naked Aaron in a bedroom scene. He drew Goofy into the corner of another comic, only to get the surprise of seeing his face altered by a production artist to avoid copyright infringement. James’ opinions on mainstream comics publishers are no secret to anyone who reads his columns for The Hooded Utilitarian, but hearing him speak at length reveals a man whose personal experiences have left him a more meaningful disdain for them than the average independent comics practitioner. He is currently collaborating with his wife on a book about her childhood in England.
More info on Post York here.
Post York can be ordered from uncivilizedbooks.com.
First image: “The Battle of ABC”, pastel on paper, 60″ X 50″, 1991, collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
Second image: “Not Of”, ink on paper, 60″ X 72″, 2010.
Third image: Pages 8 and 9 from Post York, published by Uncivilized Books.
Fourth image: The naked Aaron and Ahmed page (left) with the censored published page (right, courtesy of DC/Vertigo) (script: Jay Cantor).
Fifth image: Crosby performing “Post York” (photo by Ryan Muir).
Jess Worby is a visual artist, freelance illustrator, fledgling teacher, sometimes curator and cartoonist living in Brooklyn. Keep up with his artistic exploits on everythingisweird.com and his musings on Twitter.